JOPLIN, Mo. — Baseball has been long engrained in Joplin’s DNA, with its historic stadiums and famous players. But baseball took a back seat in many minds after the May 22nd tornado.
The EF5 tornado tore through Joplin one week before players were set to report to Joplin for the 2011 Outlaws season.
Outlaws President and General Manager Mark Rains was out of town when the tornado hit. He’d not even seen the destruction yet, when players began blowing up his phone.
“So the phone’s just ringing,” Rains said. “The boys are saying are we going to play? Are we going to be able to play? I just told them guys I don’t know yet. I don’t even know if our host families houses made it through the tornado. So that was on my mind, because there was no way we could do it if we didn’t have host families.”
Thankfully, only one host family had to pull out that summer, making the decision to have a season easier for rains and the Outlaws board. They figured laying would give the team the chance to give the people of Joplin a distraction from their new reality. Give them something to cheer for.
The team was in just its third year of existence, and Rains said 2011 was to be the first season that the team charged admission to games. That no longer seemed like the thing to do.
“We decided that we weren’t going to charge admission for our games that season and make sure that everybody could still come out.”
A kids camp that year was also held free of charge.
“The turnout was double what we usually have. We usually have about a hundred campers at our camp. That year we had close to 250.”
Pittsburg native and current Webb City baseball assistant coach Aaron Snow played for the Outlaws that summer.
“It took a different level of importance of taking the field,” Snow said “Giving the people a sense of normalcy. Giving them a chance to escape and get out to the ballpark.”
When he and his teammates weren’t playing, they were out in the community helping to clean up the destruction, especially around Sunny Jim Park.
“Being able to get there, and being able to be part of the team and help go clean up a little league field for future baseball players was extremely important and it was an amazing feeling to be there and to help the best we could,” Snow said.
“I think for the people who weren’t from around here, because we had people from all over the country on our team. I think it was important for them to see the devastation and see what everybody was going through.”
It wasn’t just the Outlaws who were giving back. The entire MINK League did their part to help the people of Joplin.
“All the GM’s called us, and then as the season went on and we went to their ballparks to play, they either had a fundraiser or we collected youth equipment,” Rains said “They took donations in their towns and gave that stuff to us so we could give it to kids in our community.”
“I think everybody in the MINK League, everybody around the country…I know Mark had a lot of donations for our youth camp, because kids had lost everything,” Snow added. “I know the MINK League was very good with scheduling and just with supporting us and whatever we needed.”
Not charging admission that summer could have proven to be a tough blow for a team still trying to find their footing in the community, but not long after the tornado, Rains said he received a call.
“It was a baseball player for the Royals, and he had played USA Baseball in Joplin for two years, and his host family had sent him the news articles about the tornado and what was going on in Joplin. He had seen that we weren’t going to charge for admission, and that we weren’t going to charge for camp. So he said ‘Mark I’m going to cut you a check and get it in the mail to you.’ You know I just couldn’t believe it.”
The player also invited the Outlaws and their host families to a game at the end of the season.
The Outlaws finished the 2011 season with a 12-30 regular season record. But that season was about so much more than wins and losses. It was about bringing a community that had faced unimaginable tragedy together, helping them to heal.
“I’m just glad that we played,” Rains said. “I’m just glad that none of our host families were effected, and I’m just glad that our community got back on its feet as quick as it did.”